Truls Hoj – A Passage Grave and Related Monuments

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Magnus Andersson

Abstract

According to an old oral tradition, there were once two burial mounds in the south-western part of Barsebäck foreland in west Scania in southern Sweden. No traces of the mounds have been seen above the topsoil. Since Svenska Kraftnät AB (an electricity transmission system operator in Sweden) planned to build a new substation in the area, we archaeologists were given the opportunity to examine the truth of the oral tradition. When the topsoil was stripped off by machine an area with stone impressions in earth and stone packings was revealed. The subsequent manual excavation revealed that the structure constituted the bottom layer of a destroyed and ploughed-out passage grave. Later years of agricultural work have seriously damaged the structure, but traces of two border chains, a chamber and the passage as well as a pit could be discerned. Previous years’ archaeological investigations have only investigated surfaces around dolmens. At Barsebäck the picture is supplemented because this is the first time we could also study larger areas around a passage grave. The monument at the location, just like the dolmens in other places, was surrounded by ritual activities, in the form of façades (standing stones), a cult house and a flat-earth grave. This article presents the site and the remains are placed in a Scandinavian perspective.

Introduction

Fig. 1. The excavation site analysed in this paper: Barsebäck in Western Scania, southernmost Scandinavia.
Fig. 1. The excavation site analysed in this paper: Barsebäck in Western Scania, southernmost Scandinavia.
Fig. 2. Settlements from the Early and Middle Neolithic.
Fig. 2. Settlements from the Early and Middle Neolithic.

According to an old oral tradition, two now destroyed and ploughed-out mounds, referred to as Truls Hoja (Truls Mounds), were located in the southernmost part of the peninsula at Barsebäck (Fig. 1 and Fig. 2) (Sjöstedt 1951). No traces of the mounds have been observed above the topsoil. On a historical map from 1831, there are no markings of mounds in the area concerned. However, on the same map, six burial mounds are plotted on a line along the coast immediately east of the area. Four of them still exist today.

Since Svenska Kraftnät AB planned to build a new substation immediately outside the Barsebäck nuclear power plant in the area in question, archaeologists were given the opportunity to examine the authenticity of the oral tradition. During the unusually warm late summer of 2016, The Archaeologist at the Swedish National History Museum conducted an archaeological excavation at the site.

There are quite a number of archaeologically investigated megalithic graves and megalithic monuments of the Neolithic in Southern Sweden, not least in Western Scania (Andersson 2004a; Andersson et al. 2016). For a long time, the investigations focused only on the still well-preserved and visible monuments. However, extensive developer-funded excavations during the last 10 – 15 years have included a relatively large number of destroyed and ploughed-out monuments. This has radically expanded our knowledge of ­monumental graves and other types of ritually used structures, which are usually connected to the megalithic graves. In some cases, an indication of the former existence of a megalith is provided by land names or markings on older maps, which render an approximate location of the graves and aid their identification in the field.

Moreover, the large number of destroyed and ploughed-out monuments excavated in some regions of Scania strongly suggests the existence of many more Early and Middle Neolithic burial monuments in the area than hitherto presumed, changing our view of the society and the landscape for this period (Andersen 2010; 2013; Andersson/​Wallebom 2013a; Brink/​Hammarstrand Dehman 2013).

The excavations of large areas have shown that there are structural differences between sites. Small clusters of earthen graves, long barrows, façades (freestanding stones or wooden poles) and megaliths are the most common types of site features, but a limited number of sites with larger concentrations of these structure types is also known. This can be interpreted as an indication of a hierarchical difference in organization, whereby the small clusters represent local ritual centres placed close by the settlements and the large concentrations represent regional gathering sites for several local Funnel Beaker Culture groups (for a discussion see Rudebeck 2010; Andersson/​Wallebom 2011; 2013a; 2013b).

Previous archaeological excavations have, however, only investigated surfaces around dolmens. At Barsebäck, the picture is enhanced because this is the first time we also were able to study larger areas around a passage grave. There proved to be similarities ­between ­locations with dolmens and the passage grave site at Barsebäck. The monument at the location, just like the dolmens in other places, was surrounded by traces of ritual activities, in this case in the form of façades (standing stones), a cult house and a flat-earth grave.

The Neolithic Landscape

In Scania, megalithic graves can be found above all in the coastal regions, where they occur in a number of concentrations. These coincide with areas of settlement density and sacrificial sites from the same time and probably correspond to the settlement regions at the start of the Neolithic. A concentration of megalithic graves can be found in West Scania and particularly at the headland of Barsebäck (Karsten 1994; Andersson 2003; Andersson et al. 2016). The area is topographically demarcated to the south by the bay formed by the estuary of the stream Lödde Å, to the west by the Öresund Strait, and to the north by wetland areas at Hofterup. The terrain is flat, interrupted only by the distinct ridge on which the Gillhög passage grave is located. Apart from Gillhög, the megalithic tombs of Storegård and Hofterup are also located in the area. During the Neolithic, the foreland at Barsebäck was a peninsula connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus. Within this area and along the stream Mare Bäck, there are several coastal dwelling sites (Fig. 2).

Fig. 3. View towards Barsebäck bog. Photo taken from the hill at the passage grave at Gillhög.
Fig. 3. View towards Barsebäck bog. Photo taken from the hill at the passage grave at Gillhög.

Reconstructions of vegetation in the area are mainly based on pollen diagrams from the bog of Barsebäck Mosse (Fig. 3) (Digerfeldt 1975). The results there agree in large measure with analyses performed in other parts of Scania. The general picture verifies that the proportion of elm pollen decreased at the start of the Subboreal. At the same time or slightly later, a tendency is observed that other stands of deciduous woods, such as oak, ash and lime, declined in favour of grass pollen. The increase in cereals and grass pollen can probably be attributed to human impact on the environment, which began in the Late Mesolithic. This can be interpreted as signs of gradually increasing grazing and cultivation pressure.

Fig. 4. Bronze Age barrows/megalithic graves.
Fig. 4. Bronze Age barrows/megalithic graves.

The surroundings in the vicinity of the investigation site are mainly dominated by a large number of sites from the Stone Age and burial mounds (Figs. 2 and 4). Some archaeological excavations have been conducted in the neighbourhood. In connection with the construction of the Barsebäck nuclear power plant, excavations of three burial mounds from the Bronze Age and a large settlement from the Stone Age were conducted during the early 1970s. Here, the settlement areas show a continuity from the opening phase of the Early Neoli­thic into the Middle Neolithic V phase (Nagmér 1970; 1974).

Fig. 5. Section of the barrow investigated during the 1930s.
Fig. 5. Section of the barrow investigated during the 1930s.

In the 1930s, the four existing mounds east of the investigation area were excavated by the Lund University Historical Museum under the direction of J.-E. Forssander. Three of them were had already been completely destroyed at that time. The fourth (i. e. the second mound from the east of the four) was found to be almost undisturbed. The mound consisted of lump stones covered by a soil mantle. The central grave consisted of a stone cist with split slabs measuring 3.2 × 0.8 m and oriented WSW–ENE (Fig. 5). Bifacial arrowheads and a pendant of slate were found in the coffin (Forssander 1934). A dating of the central grave to the Late Neolithic seems reasonable. As mentioned, the remaining three mounds were already destroyed. In the remains of the easternmost mound, however, a number of finds were made, including flake axes and pottery with cord decorations below the rim (Forssander 1934). The finds suggest a dating to the Early Neolithic and that the mounds might have originally consisted of a megalithic grave. Interestingly, excavations of barrows in the vicinity reveal various dates for their original construction.

The Archaeological Investigation

Fig. 6. View towards the investigation area, located under the power lines. The nuclear power plant in the background. Photo taken from the hill at the passage grave at Gillhög.
Fig. 6. View towards the investigation area, located under the power lines. The nuclear power plant in the background. Photo taken from the hill at the passage grave at Gillhög.

The investigation area is located on arable land on the north ­shore of the Saltviken Bay, about 400 m north of today’s shoreline, which lies between 5 and 10 metres above sea level (Fig. 6). The natural environment is characterized by the open flat coastal scenery at the Öresund Strait characterized by the Littorina Sea shoreline, Järavallen. This formed about 6,000 years ago when the water level was up to 4 – 5 metres higher than it is today (Risberg/​Regnell 2006). During this time (from the end of the Mesolithic to the middle part of the Neolithic, ca. 7000 – 3000 BC), the Barsebäck foreland was a peninsula connected to the mainland only by a narrow strip of land.

Passage grave